This Valentine’s Week, a Few Thoughts About Love

Philosophers struggle to define love, little less explain it in ways we all crave. Ways that allow us to find and to nurture it, so as we journey through life – with the same lover or someone different – it will continue to flourish.

Excuses for this vary, but some put it down to love’s furry edge. Love is the “ejection” of irrational emotion, so beyond the grasp of reason. Indeed, many philosophers believe this to be true of all emotions, which they see as irrelevant, even hostile, to morality.

I say rubbish. Intimate partnerships run in seven-year cycles. Those with the wisdom to choose the right person, then make the relationship anew every few years, are a repository of considered good sense, not to mention the happiest and most compassionate folk around. Here’s what I’ve learned from some of them.

_One person can never meet all your needs (and this means sex, too)_

Every relationship will leave you wanting somewhere. When applied to friends, this often goes without notice. So Marla loves bad music, and Andrew hates cats. That’s them, and that’s life. But when lovers disappoint us, we can grow bitter. Even depressed. They’re supposed to be our everything! But they can’t be. No one can.

It is the exclusivity of intimate partnerships in Anglo countries (the French do it differently) that torpedoes loving partnerships that might otherwise survive. If what our partner wasn’t could be treated with equanimity rather than as a threat – because we were free to get those needs met elsewhere – why would we leave, or sneak behind their backs? We don’t do either to our friends.

Loving others means loving yourself

Oh, I know it sounds like a fairy bumper sticker, but if you understood the first point, you’ll know that it’s true.

Coming to terms with what your partner lacks is one thing. Having to accept the same about yourself – that you cannot give him everything – is something else again. To do it requires considerable resilience and self-esteem. The sort of bullet-proof self-love that means you don’t take her preference to holiday with friends as evidence you’re no fun to be with, or that he no longer desires you as proof that you’re rank.

This is challenging stuff, and not for the faint-hearted. No wonder so many cling to the traditional ’til-death-do-us-part. But if we really love ourselves and love the other, we want for them what they seek for themselves, glorying like a mother in their joy and pleasure, even when someone else caused it, and we weren’t there to see it. We wish them to have what want in this world even if, for a time, it’s someone else.

If you love someone, set them free

Wisdom, or the dubious advice of a seagull? Whatever the case, to me it makes sense. Because if lasting love can’t be jealous or exclusive, then it must be chosen, and chosen again. I love you because you make my heart beat faster; I love you because of how you make me feel about myself. I love you because you’re the sort of person I want to parent my children. I love you because I respect and trust you. After all we’ve seen and done together, you’ve never let me down.

No one is everything. Love yourself, and seek for those you love what they seek for themselves. Set your beloved free, and perhaps he’ll soon come back.

Publication history

This Valentine's Week, a Few Thoughts About Love  Sun-Herald (Sydney)